Tag Archives: professional development

Retrospective: The Past and Future of Information Programs

Over the course of the last three months I’ve talked about a wide variety of things in my search for some kind of internal understanding about information programs and services. Other topics and subjects have found their way onto this blog in that time, and while they’re all still highly relevant, in the interest of good bookkeeping here’s an all-you-can-eat buffet of the INN333 highlights from the semester that was:

Cue a wavy distortion filter and tinkling music for a walk down memory lane.

Week 1 Primer on Personal Learning Networks

Week 2 Reflection on Information Overload 

Week 3 Reflection on Social Media & Micro Blogging 

Week 4 Reflection on Content Curation, Aggregation, and Web 2.0 

Play for Week 4 in which I tried my hand at some content curation of my own 

Week 5 Reflection on Library VoIP services 

Play for Week 5 in which Ben Harkin and I played silly buggers with Skype

Week 6 Reflection on The Failure of Google+ 

Week 7 Reflection on The Intersection of Creative Commons and 3D Fabrication

Play for Week 7 in which I finally joined the filter brigade on Instagram

Week 9 Reflection on Device Agnostic Applications 

Play for Week 9 in which I declare my love for the humble QR code 

And last but not least, some playful reflections for Week 10 in which I discuss games, gaming, and gamification in a two part after school special. (Part1) & (Part 2)

Now that we’re done wiping away the tears from all the good times we’ve shared I ask that you endure one last soapboxing for the semester as I reflect on what this all meant to me.

As a lifelong hobbyist of technology I have always had an insatiable desire to tinker with gadgets, play with the latest software and games, and test out the newest platforms and services.  Back in 2010—when the iPad first launched—I became increasingly interested in the potential effects of how technology was increasingly incorporated into day-to-day life and how profoundly transformative an effect this was having on how content was authored, published, and consumed.

As information consumers, we all live in an age of unimaginable abundance, uninhibited by traditional notions of material scarcity. The infinite shelf space of the internet paired with zero-cost reproduction of content had created a world inundated with increasingly complex and almost magical platforms for technologies and experiences that even a scant few decades ago would have been nothing more than science fiction. And here I was trying to make sense of it all.

At the time I was finishing a master’s degree in writing, editing, and publishing at the University of Queensland, and I began obsessing over how the commoditisation of information and digital publishing was converging and—by extension—devaluing digital works. I became convinced that the devices and services that were simultaneously enabling these transformative, futuristic experiences in our lives also represented the greatest danger to the quality of those experiences. Tapping into social media, RSS feeds, and inviting ‘push’ notifications into my life seemed to be nothing more than inviting a never-ending supply of indiscriminate garbage information to bother me.

My fleeting dalliance as a neo-Luddite evaporated fairly quickly, but left me with a healthy scepticism for the efficacy and capabilities of the digital products that had so quickly come to dominate our lives.

Fast-forward to July 2013, and I find myself facing down a semester entirely concerned with examining the practical application of these technologies. I was actually keen to welcome the chance to explore many of the themes I was fascinated by, and eagerly got stuck right in.

As I have a fairly high level of comfort with complicated IT systems, I had doubts that I would get anything worthwhile out of the practical side of the subject that—at face value—appeared to be an odd assortment of activities designed to familiarise students with crucial information services in the wild rather than do anything particularly complicated or revelatory with them.

I could not have been more wrong!

Being pushed to engage in—and more importantly—reflect on these experiences made me actually take the time to examine the many-faceted uses of these services, and better appreciate how they might be utilised by others. Enough time has passed that I can’t call to mind any anecdotes about the specific challenges I faced this semester, but I have a nebulous idea that I found the process of discovery and investigation to be meaningful and cool, and genuinely enjoyed playing with how I approached and interacted with the activities.

Paradoxically, although this subject has concerned itself primarily with social technologies, I couldn’t shake the divided and diminishing effect of lacking more direct social collaboration with my peers. Despite the ongoing conversations on Twitter and Facebook and regularly touring my colleague’s blogs, I felt displaced and distanced from my peers—despite our shared engagement. The handful of face-to-face workshops were undeniably highlights of the semester, but just drove home how much I regretted that more face time with the cohort was not available.

Ultimately, this subject helped me appreciate and articulate a deeper understanding not only of how and why certain services function the way they do, but also how crucially important it is to take the time to interrogate and examine these functions fully.

Although the heady season of INN333 has come to a close I’m not going anywhere. My journey of professional development is far from over and there are scores of blogs unwritten just waiting in the wings.

So stick around, the best is yet to come.


Games, Gaming, and Gamification – Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts about Games, Gamification, and Libraries.

There’s a certain stubborn snobbery that associates gaming with children, which therefore assumes that adults who engage in meaningful play-based activities must be in some way juvenile too. It’s a huge generalisation, but there’s a pervasive unpleasantness demonstrated by a certain, narrow-minded breed of professionals that ‘objectively’ rules out games and gamification in a completely arbitrary way that doesn’t need to be explained, defended, or evaluated.

And that’s hugely frustrating!

To derail from the broader discussion for a moment, I’d just like to contextualise my soap boxing a little. I’m pretty savvy when it comes to games and gaming—in fact, if Gladwell’s litmus test of ’10 000 hours of an activity make you an expert’ then I’ve certainly covered the requirements a few times over.  Just this past week I participated in the Indie Speed Run 48 hour game jam—an excellent idea in the middle of a solid block of university assessment. This game jam tasked my team and me with the complete design and development of a game in just 48 hours with a random set of elements to include and adhere to.


Immersing myself in a rapid-fire development environment for a whole weekend left me asking some of the high-level, design questions that are fundamental to all sorts of manifestations of ‘games’.

These core principals of play design—whether they in a 2D side-scroller or a library catalogue—ask the same sorts of questions about attention, motivation, and engagement. In taking on the mantle of a game designer I had to ask myself these questions in order to find meaningful verbs to describe play-based activities beyond the mundane tasks being performed.

Take Trove’s text correction initiative for example. Here we have a dull set of actions such as laborious information parsing and data entry. But, it’s packaged in such a way that we see it as exploration, discovery, and competition. Checking and correcting OCR’d articles becomes a quixotic race-to-the-top of who can demonstrate the highest level of commitment. Sure, it’s a highly insular community. But, within the space provided by Trove an entire currency of reputation has grown up around the dubious honour of correcting the most articles.

This isn’t profoundly high-level game design; but it works. The layers of progression and incentives give a positive feedback loop that rewards commitment and engagement. But, bootstrapping game systems onto existing mechanics is always going to be inherently flawed.

This is no ‘ground-up’ design. It’s simply re-contextualising something that already works and trying to make it fun and engaging. It’s really just expressing an existing system through new mechanics.

Play shouldn’t feel like work, and there is a wealth of work that needs to be contributed to libraries. Social data that enriches a catalogue such as tagging, reviewing, recommending, relating, and classifying records enriches a library in an amazing way. Slapping the veneer of a game onto the catalogue to ‘trick’ people into doing this work feels disingenuous, and smacks of exploitation.

Really, it’s a fundamental question of putting content into a game, rather than bootstrapping a game onto content.

Serious games have an element of mastery: your engagement and fun come from a progressive, skill-based unlocking of content. Gamification without meaningful mechanics might as well be a workplace KPI that just tracks your threshold for filling arbitrary quotas to achieve recognition.


Camera Obscura

My reticence to jump on the filter bandwagon has finally crumbled.

Rejoice readers! After a brief struggle with the arcane vagaries of WordPress shortcode and some bootstrapped php I managed to wrangle together an effective way to pull my Instagram feed into this blog (and only broke everything completely once). There’s a lesson in here somewhere about keeping your plugins up to date and remembering to switch from visual layouts to manual text entry…but who has time for these things?

My wacky japes and capers surviving post-graduate study are now available in a full-colour (well, sepia mostly).

I’ve since removed the gallery from the core of this blog, but I’m still out there on Instagram!

Too Much Information

Web 2.0 pundit and theorist Andrew Keen writes in his book Digital Vertigo (2012):

 Instead of making us happier and more connected, social media’s siren song—the incessant calls to digitally connect, the cultural obsession with transparency and openness, the never-ending demand to share everything about ourselves with everyone else— is, in fact, both a significant cause and effect of the increasingly vertiginous nature of twenty-first—century life.

The inconvenient truth is that social media, for all its communitarian promises, is dividing us, rather than bringing us together (p. 67)

There’s a great deal of wisdom in what Keen is saying: The overwhelming wealth of information available online lends itself to a perverse idea of obsessive over-sharing and digital exhibitionism. Ideas of transparency and openness have to be considered against the alternative of constructing a carefully limited, constructed persona online to be completely disingenuous.

Ultimately, either end of the spectrum is still driving us towards an online culture that is divided, fragmented, and essentially at odds with itself.

So what’s the middle ground? What balance can there be between honestly engaging in a rich, participatory culture online, and protecting our individual privacy and identity.

For my own part, I choose to present myself as a professional fully and absolutely online. Anything relevant to my professional development, career aspirations, and written work is funnelled into the same set of linked channels. I keep a unified identity across media platforms (@mjjfeeney on Twitter; www.mjjfeeney.com on this, my blogging domain; /mjjfeeney/ as my Facebook username etc.). Since our online identities span so many platforms today, I feel that presenting a consistent set of values and sharing limits across each platform is vital. I would hate for someone who follows me on twitter to discover this blog and be disoriented by an overabundance of personal content.

I feel that keeping this consistency about what we’re sharing—and where—is vital. What you put online will be found, no matter where you think it’s hidden away. Making sure it’s something you’d be willing to share in *any* of your other channels of communication is vital.

Giving Back: Personal Learning Networks

In 1985, Steven Brand published the now famous information doctrine Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, which stipulated the unique ethos of the hacking subculture and claimed that ‘All information wants to be free’:

On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. (Brand, 1985, p. 49) 

But, information is not made solely of ephemeral ideas; it is made of ideas and work. Sadly, I’m guilty of taking advantage of the altruism of others and exploiting that good work selfishly. Having recently explicitly examined the idea of a ‘Personal Learning Network’ (PLN) I realised that I’m a ‘drain’ on my localised PLN: I take more than I put back.

I have embedded myself in a community of people with like interests, who I make use of as a sort of social filter to hopefully reveal the most relevant information to me. I actively scour blogs, twitter feeds, and other social data to skim off the cream-of-the-crop of trends coming down in the LIS sector. But, even when I have something to contribute, I remain largely silent. I realise that this isn’t a particularly admirable state of affairs, and aim to rectify it in the coming months.

First things first, I’m going to get some fresh, original content up on this blog. I’m really fascinated by social aggregation and the transformation of controlled taxonomies into organic folksonomies, so stay tuned for some of that in the near future.

Also, I’ve started repurposing some of my writing from 2010+ on the evolution of digital publishing, price, and piracy to snazzy blog-sized chunks.

So, I come hat in hand to my PLN, offering these small morsels of content to repay the free-ride I’ve been taking so far. It’s not much, but it’s a start.

Enlightened self-interest

Workshop 7: Moving out into the profession

Quite the capstone to a long, challenging, and illuminating semester!

Socialising and mingling with my peers in-class one final time this semester reminded me that we were strangers only a few months ago. Over the course of the semester we had already taken meaningful steps towards building our personal networking and professional relationships. Chatting with the guests over cheese and wine and listening to their presentations drove home for me just how vital communication and sociability is to the success and vitality of my career.

Being a responsible, capable, and proficient information professional is not something I can manage on my own. My learning and development isn’t taking place in a vacuum; it is being guided, shaped, and informed by the people around me. Finding my place in this profession was always going to be a by-product of connecting with people and building a meaningful understanding of how I fit into the larger context of this community.

Although it is unnerving to face the challenges of finding meaningful employment in a field that is so dynamic, I am confident that I have started to develop enough self-knowledge to understand how to thrive and prosper in the face of these challenges. I feel like I have moved beyond my initial embarrassment and reticence of not knowing or understanding some things, and I have embraced the fact that I am still a beginner in this expansive field. I feel I am finally comfortable with letting go of some perfect ideal of my future employment, and embracing change as it comes.

Documenting these first steps I’ve taken into a larger, professional world  has contributed to my own understanding of  who I am, and what I want to do. It has illuminated for me what sort of jobs, environments, and types of work will make me happiest and helped me to develop career goals that reflect what I value most.

On reflection, the entire program of INN634 instilled in me the guiding principle of loyalty to my own professional goals. My own personal integrity and commitment to moving forward is not about finding an employer willing to take me on, but rather about developing a practical set of skills and capabilities that guarantee I will be employable for life.

I’m going to cap-off this off with a quote that really evokes what I felt was the core theme of this program:

“It is not the strongest of the species who survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change

Charles Darwin.


Workshop 6: Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums

(This reflection was originally written on May 12, 2013)

There are fascinating things happening in the GLAM space as these disparate institutions collaborate and converge in new and exciting ways as single entities. I’m intrigued by the intersection and integration of these cultural structures, and I can see how the proliferation of new, and better technology could be driving these physical spaces to converge in the way many digital collections already are.

New Zealand is forging ahead with these new-style memory institutions. Guided by the concept of Manawa which I believe translate approximately as ‘heart and soul’ they’re really driving the strengths of the cultural heart of their cities, and I loved the idea of bringing these entities together as a civic focal point.

There’s undoubtedly a lot of opportunities in these new shared spaces. But, I can’t help but think that in a ‘collective-identity’ something of the unique, individual cultures of these institutions are lost.

As someone who want’s to work in these institutions, I have a great deal of enthusiasm for new, innovative models of engaging the public. But, does convergence really create a better experience for everyone involved? Can the professional values of disparate organisations maintain integrity and focus when forced to operate in such a close proximity to each other.

I’d love to explore these spaces more, as I think there’s an opportunity for fresh skills in these new spaces that demand a new sort of meta-professional.

I think it ties back into a running theme throughout my studies, that there is an increasing importance of generic, transferable skills across the information professions. It isn’t worth developing a career in isolation from other professions in the same associated space, and I can only see benefits from aggressively pursuing multi-disciplinary proficiencies.

Seeing the Gorilla

Workshop 5: Evidence Based Practice – Being research led

(This reflection was originally written on April 28, 2013)

The challenge to being more open and receptive to the situation around us is that sometimes, we just don’t see the Gorilla. When it came to understanding evidence based practice I certainly missed what was right in front of me.

Ann Gillespie spoke to us at length about how we can fundamentally adopt a way of thinking about the profession that interrogates data to provide meaningful evidence.

Evidence based practice in librarianship is not something I had any experience with prior to this workshop. Wrangling concrete data from a more holistic, qualitative process was eye opening and gave me pause. I had never considered that there were ways of empirically measuring or evaluating success that didn’t just draw on dry statistics and analytic data.

Calling on intuition and reflection to approach and measure library practices is fascinating. I was really drawn in by the theoretical frameworks espoused by Andrew Booth and Johnathan Elredge in the literature, and was able to contextualise how a practice cribbed from medicine and science could be applicable to LIS decision making.

I was genuinely surprised by the dissent in the classroom about the ‘woolly’ lack of value that EBP has, as it seemed self-evident to me almost immediately how useful and valuable this sort of approach could be. Identifying and iterating on best-practices is always going to be the way forward, and qualitative data can provide a wealth of context for interpreting and applying these practices.

I tend towards more quantitative, theoretical, research-oriented projects, and adopt a healthy level of pragmatism and detachment about the process. But, a more holistic approach to evidence based practice seems to present a much more dynamic, practical way of addressing the day-to-day challenges of the LIS profession.

If anything, this workshop highlighted for me that intuition and reflection are too-valuable as professional tools to be ignored. Evidence based practice is certainly something I intend to adopt in my further studies.

How do you solve a problem like ALIA?

Workshop 4: A learning profession

(This reflection was originally written on April 14, 2013)

How can you keep up with the rapid changes of an industry always on the move? How do you keep your skills, knowledge, and awareness at the fore of the profession?

Apparently by adopting the mindset of being a reflective practitioner and a learning professional.

Sue Hutley, Kelly Johnson, Lyndelle Gunton, and Kathleen Smeaton spoke to  us about the importance of articulating what it means to be these things, and how to keep yourself updated and professionally relevant.

Much of what was said were things I already had intuited through general assessment of the profession. Things like, attending events, volunteering, engaging with conferences, and socialising within the profession.

*Addendum: Thanks to Kelly’s tireless encouragement a group of us did get together and attend the ALIA trivia night later in the semester. 

But they also raised challenging questions of what it means to rely on lifelong learning and be a valued, certified practitioner in the information field.

Should we have compulsory professional development in the LIS profession? I certainly believe so. Technology is shifting so rapidly, and we have entrenched professionals in some sectors who won’t necessarily take responsibility for their own development. ALIA as a professional body is an opt-in selection, and that means some choose to opt-out. There really needs to be a mandatory profession-wide commitment to staying relevant and skilled in these times of uncertainty.

Digital literacy is just as important as any form of literacy, and unlike ‘learned’ literacy it is fairly easy to acquire digital illiteracy simply through complacency. The old digital divide of having access to computers has faded away in the age of ubiquitous computing. Today, the digital gap is knowing how to search, access, and retrieve meaningful information. While these information seeking behaviours are generic to the Librarian’s skillset, the unique, idiosyncratic use of particular technologies and services is not. I strongly believe that without compulsory professional development there is a real risk of complacency and irrelevance among disinterested information professionals.

Thankfully, none of the panel of experts reflected this decay of standards. They were all engaging, vibrant, and enthusiastic about the future of the profession, and imparted a deep sense of pride for the LIS industry.

Failure requires no preparation

To venture causes anxiety. Not to venture is to lose oneself.

 Soren Kierkegaard.

If I’m going to take responsibility for my career development, I should really be setting some specific, measurable goals.

To that end, I want to demonstrate that I have the ability to contribute effectively to the profession by expanding and updating my skills over the next 2-5 years, and create a systemic plan for organising my progress.

Recent technology trends are creating new opportunities for specialising with my particular skill-set, but there’s a fair amount of terror with jobs that have never been done before. But doing what hasn’t bee done before is intellectually seductive, and I want to be able to transition into new disciplines as they grow in demand.

Change is disruptive, confusing, and brings uncertainty. I mean to combat that in part by:

  • Setting up a media monitoring process: I want to stay hooked in the the world of information around me, and identify possible opportunities as they arise. Emerging patterns in blogs, conferences, and publications will help me track these changes.
    • In addition to major LIS journals, I will be scanning:General media in Newsweek; Management trends in the Harvard Business Review; Tech-trends in Wired; Business and economics in Forbes; and critical discussion in The New Yorker.
  • Cultivating a professional network: I intend to build a relationship with my peers and professional colleagues of mutual respect and trust. I see the benefits of collaboration, and want to be a positive and enthusiastic part of that environment. I also will use my advanatges of student rates to join as many professional bodies as I can for my studies, and establish a foothold in organisations that have meaning for me (e.g ALIA, QWC)
  • Developing resilience: If I’m going to make this work, I need to get comfortable with the fact that setbacks may detour or distract me, but not wilt in the face of the challenges awaiting me. I intend to commit my energy to owning my mistakes, being willing to fail, and celebrating my accomplishments when and if they happen.
  • Committing to continuous learning: With my time remaining in the graduate program I intend to use my assignments and lectures to explore my options and prioritise what is critical, innovative, and reinventing the profession. Once I am done, I intend to remain flexible and positive about change and update my skills through short-courses, programs, and professional accredations where necessary.
  • Gaining visibility: I want to build my expertise openly. This blog serves to further that goal, but I also strive to: ·
    • o   Publish a scholarly article on folksonomies, social data, and tagging in an accredited journal.
    • o   Attend conferences and professional events and make myself known through questions, conversation, and projects.
    • o   Publish in the YA fiction space to support and advocate young-male literacy.
    • o   Investigate the prospect of furthering my academic career with research or higher-learning.

Who knows where I’ll be in 2 years, let alone 5. There are so many traditional and nontraditional paths my career could take that I’ll undoubtedly need to re frame these goals along the way. But, what an adventure that will be!